Norman Gortsby is what Americans today would call a yuppie. He is sitting on a park bench and appears to be a man of leisure, but since it is already around six-thirty, he may have gotten off work in some office within the last hour or so. He is fairly well dressed because he would have to be properly attired in conservative clothes in his job. He is not an aristocrat, by any means. He is not an Oxford or Cambridge man, but he has some education and he has an upwardly mobile job, possibly in stocks and bonds. The type of work he does calls for dealing with people, making judgments and decisions, and no doubt with denying many requests. He is not affluent, but he has a better-than-average income and good expectations for the future.
Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it.
Because he is fairly well dressed and appears to enjoy lounging on park benches watching the passing parade, he has been approached innumerable times by people with hard-luck stories. He has become a bit cynical because he has been taken in by liars before. He is self-reliant; he is not afraid to be sitting there alone in the gathering dusk. He feels confident he can take care of himself in any situation.
When the young man comes and sits beside him, Gortsby probably anticipates some sort of opening conversation and then a request for money. It would seem from his manner and his dialogue that he is willing to amuse himself by listening to the stranger's tale of woe but has no intention of giving him a penny. He automatically assumes that anything the young man will tell him will be untrue. Gortsby has become a connoisseur of hard-luck stories; he has heard them all, both the male and female versions of distress.
Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognized.
Gortsby is well aware that there are plenty of people in the visinity in financial distress, but he is
. . . not disinclined to take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in the dark sretches between the lamp-lights.
If he tried to help out everybody who appealed to him for money, he would become one of the poor himself. Like Saki himself, Gortsby is a Tory. He knows it is a cold, cruel world and a Darwinian struggle of all against all. He shows his cynicism and his hardened attitude when the young stranger beside him finally finishes his complicated story and prompts him for some sort of response with the words
"I'm glad, anyhow, that you don't think the story outrageously impossible."
"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point in your story is that you can't produce the soap."
This slow, thoughtful reponse shows that Gortsby is intelligent, urbane, experienced, judgmental, and cynical. The young stranger's angry reaction suggests that he is sorry to have wasted so much of this valuable twilight time on such an adamant prospect. Gortsby has at least taught him a good lesson. He will buy a cake of soap at the nearest chemist's shop.